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Mary Jane Books Saves Lives

April 9, 2010

by Caitlin Farrell

ALBANY N.Y. – As the semester comes to a close, many students are thinking about selling back their school books. Mary Jane Books is one local alternative for buying and selling books.

The store was named for the owner’s aunt and customers might recognize an old high school yearbook photo of “Mary Jane,” which has put a recognizable face to the store at the corner of Western and Quail.

“It’s a prime location,” said Carole Renzi, who owns the shop. “I could tell there was a lot of students in the area.”

Mary Jane Books opened in its current corner location in April 1998. The original

(Caitlin Farrell)

store was half its current size until Renzi capitalized on space that became vacant after an Indian restaurant closed. As years went by she even bought warehouse space near Chapman Stained Glass Studio down the street on Quail.

Someday Renzi hopes to expand the store with a bigger area for browsing and hang out area. The patrons are mostly students who come in looking for textbooks but they also have other people from the area come in to look at her selection.

“They have interesting used books for reading at decent prices,” said Gretchen Ingersoll, a Saint Rose English professor.

She said she loves to browse their used books, and manages to find treasures in their stacks.

When weather gets warmer Renzi opens up her warehouse down the street on Quail for people to come and browse. It usually opens in April, June and July. Set up like a Borders or a bigger bookstore inside, many residents come to look at what Mary Jane Books has to offer.

Many businesses in the Pine Hills neighborhood flourish because of the possibility of different kinds of patrons; students and full time residents. Renzi thinks that it’s beneficial that Mary Jane Books is so near many successful businesses like Pepper Jack’s, Professor Barley’s, and The Ginger Man. Mary Jane Books is a solid member of the business community of Pine Hills said Julia Byron, manager of The Ginger Man. She also agrees that each business is dependent on the other.

Mary Jane Books sells mostly to students so they carry a lot of books, notebooks and other various school supplies. According to Renzi, if they can get students to come in their freshman year they keep coming back semester after semester, but most of the time the schools have a good lock on the students buying at their bookstores. Once Renzi tried to hand out flyers at SUNY Albany orientation and was kicked off the premises. As a UAlbany graduate herself, Renzi runs a shuttle bus to and from Mary Jane Books to the University’s campus at the beginning of each semester. She also puts commercials on the University’s television station. The bookstore buys back books but they are finding that lately fewer people are taking advantage of it.

Many students are now selling books back themselves using internet sources like Ebay, Amazon and renting books with Chegg. Online commerce is more common now because so many current students have grown up using online sources to find cheaper alternatives. Tom Legacy, a former Hudson Valley Community College student, said he’s tried to buy books at Mary Jane Books before and he likes the web better.

“Online seems to be the way to go, better resale prices, and cheaper than retail, no matter used or new,” said Legacy

Recently Mary Jane Books has started taking online orders from students and they can pick up their orders in the store once they are assembled. According to Renzi this has cut down on the daunting out-the-door lines on the first week of classes. On the other hand there are employees working at all hours until all of the orders are put together, especially the first two weeks of classes.

Along with books and supplies Mary Jane Books also sells shirts and bags with the slogans “Mary Jane why the hell not” and “Mary Jane saves lives.” Renzi said that they were actually quotes from paying customers as they were buying books.

Ultimately the biggest reward is being able to be in control of her own business. In the past Renzi had worked for a bigger bookstore and that’s when she decided to open Mary Jane Books. The fact that she gets to hire all of her 15 employees makes it seems more like a family, and thus easier to work together.

After having worked in bigger bookstores in the past, Renzi gets satisfaction in working for herself, although she said that the experience is what gave her the idea to open Mary Jane Books.

“At the end of the day, if I’ve worked a 14 hour day, I’ve worked it for myself,” said Renzi. -30-


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